Friday, February 29, 2008

My 100 Favorite Songs - #s 91-100

100. "O’ Sailor" - Fiona Apple
I love how Apple uses the piano on her songs - it almost takes the place of the bass, with low left hand piano notes supplying the groove and bottom. This is one of those songs where the verse is fine but the song only really gels into something more with the chorus. That refrain of "O Sailor, why'd you do it" has a wonderfully longing melody.

99. "The Weight" - The Band
I have some vague memory of this song getting heavy airplay for some reason in the early 90s. Another song where the piano adds a lot, filling in the color and melody the straight-ahead arrangement needs. I love how the music gives off the feel of being on the road, how it sounds dusty and worn-in. And the almost-lazy, comfortable vocal delivery fits just right.

98. "On Every Street" - Dire Straits
This song should not be a favorite. The structure is as basic as it comes -a very basic C-chord piano progression (I know this because I can play it on the piano, and I don't really play piano). And it's got a cheesy 80-s sounding sax. But something about Knopfler's tired, weary delivery, and the short chord sequence that bridges each of the three verses is just completely haunting to me. The song also features some of Knopfler's best lyric writing. "A three-chord symphony crashes into space." Nice.

97. "Devil’s Arcade" - Bruce Springsteen
Easily my favorite song off of the new album. One of those great, affecting, hopeful melodies, and by using strings so heavily he really lets it shine. It's got a little of that epic, triumphant quality, especially at the end, that i have such a weakness for.

96. "Ordinary People" - Neil Young
This is another song that logically shouldn't be on this list. It's anchored by as simple and classic a chord progression as you could imagine. And it's over 18 minutes long. With many, many verses - no complicated structure here leading to that 18 minutes; just verse after verse after verse. But damn it if Young doesn't make it all work, and build through each verse, as instruments are added and the feel gets looser and more energetic. This is an example of a song that benefits from other instruments--here a great horn section that comes in on each of the choruses.

95. "Chicago" - Sufjan Stevens
Very theatrical, with the xylophone, and the strings, and the horns, but with the beat and drive of a rock song. I Still stand by my belief that this song would be better with someone who wasn't afraid to actually sing the thing, and not kind of whisper-wimp it out.

94. "Deathly" - Aimee Mann
One of the all-time great opening lines: "Now that I've met you, would you object to, never seeing, each other again?" I love Mann's voice, and how she pretends to be laid back and not-too-invested, but how you can hear the deep emotion as she invests the odd notes with a purer, deeper tone. It's a great style.

93. "Sweet Child O’ Mine" - Guns ‘N Roses
When I was maybe sixteen, I went through this same exercise - writing down my favorite 100 songs. There are only a handful of repeats from that list to this one, 17 years later, and this is one. If that's not one of the all-time most beautiful guitar riffs, so effortless and clean, I don't know what is.

92. "Shadowboxer" - Fiona Apple
That piano again. What a great, slinky, sexy, insidious piano groove to open the song with. And then the chorus hits, and the song hits another level. Apple's voice is a great instrument, confident, full, and sweet.

91. "Pride (in the Name of Love)" - U2
The first in a series of what any regular reader knows will be many. I used to love this song a lot more than I do now, but I think it will always be the quintessential U2 song for me. That riff is indelible and as much an encoded piece of U2's DNA as anything. And this is old-school Bono, hitting silly high notes with a complete lack of fear. I adore the live version on Rattle & Hum (see below), which finds Bono in superb voice, full, and rich, and strong. This is what rock singing should be.

Until Whenever

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's Like They Can See in My Head

The Stephen King/John Mellencamp ghost story musical was announced ages ago, and I always thought it would never actually, you know, happen. So, this story, which says that the play will premier in Atlanta in April of 2009, with an eye towards a Broadway run to follow, has me giddy, giddy, giddy!
Until Whenever
Three by Three

Three things I liked about the new A Raisin in the Sun.

  • The three female leads. This is high-quality, beautifully done old-school melodrama acting. It's the acting version of one of those beautiful pieces of Shaker furniture, exquisitely crafted and wonderfully old-fashioned. The chemistry and rapport between Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald in particular was just great to see. And who knew, when she burst on to the Broadway scene fifteen years or so ago in Carousel, that McDonald would prove to be such a wonderful actress in non-musical roles?

  • The set design and costuming. Whoever designed this film did a great job of evoking the time period - the tiny apartment, the old and beat-up frying pan, the creaky stove, that Charlie Brown plant, the faded house dresees, all combined to create a very real sense of place.

  • The score - melodramatic and sentimental in all the right places, but inventive and not at all intrusive. A great job. I've never heard of Mervyn Warren before, but I intend to look him up.

Three things I did not like about A Raisin in the Sun

  • Sean Combs. It's his story, really, in the end, and he can't act. He's not horrible, but next to the three women he just sticks out like a sore thumb. I admire the fact that he got the revival done, and this film, and that he brought this classic of American literature back, but do wish he would have had the self-awareness to realize that someone else would have made the play and film that much better.
  • Too many commercials (I watched on delay, actually,so this really didn't effect me, but I liked this film a lot, so I'm grasping at straws here).
  • Some of the opening up - the scene at the university kind of called attention to itself as a way to get other settings into the story beyond the apartment.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My 100 Favorite Songs

Because I had such fun with the 100 favorite films series, I'm going to do my 100 favorite songs next. But before I start, I wanted to lay out some thoughts about what makes a good song (to me), as well as some ground rules.

First, the ground rules. I am considering "rock/pop" songs only, albeit from a pretty loose definition. Still, this means no standards, no musical theater songs, no jazz songs. No "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," no "Sunday," no "Waters of March." I'm also limiting my list to songs I own. There may be some songs that would crack the top 100 that I haven't actually tracked down on CD or mp3 (maybe "Whiter Shade of Pale," to list one), but I can live with not including them in this list.

Now - what makes a great song? For me, it's a couple of things. I tend to gravitate towards songs that do something different. Not that you won't find any three-chord guitar, bass, and drums songs in my list, but I tend to score extra points for including a trumpet, or a good synth line, or strings--in organic and effective ways. Or for doing something new with structure. Or for an artfully expressed idea. I'm pretty forgiving on lyrics - I'll take a good tune, or a neat chord change or progression, or a clever arrangement, with bad lyrics over good lyrics with boring music any day of the week. Especially in "rock," where the lyrics are often enough not too intelligible to begin with. And I'm kind of a stickler for a good singer - I believe, with the self-righteous pompitude of an evangelical, that rock singers should still have to sing. Not scream, or whine, or mumble, or wail.

But most importantly--and this will be the hardest to nail down as I write about these songs, given how ephemeral and subjective it is - a song has to move me. Whether to tears, joy, ecstasy, anger, or sorrow is mostly irrelevant, but it has to trigger emotion in some way to be great.

Until Whenever

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Thoughts

Brief higgeldy-piggeldy notions:

  • I have not seen La Vie en Rose, and yet was disappointed by Cotillard's win. Why? Because her songs were lip-synced. Presumably a fair share of the performance's impact was in how well she portrayed the singer while singing - the clip they used suggested as much. But that wasn't her singing. Shouldn't the singer get some of the credit too? I had the same problem with Jamie Foxx's win for Ray, in that he was lip-syncing to the real Ray Charles. It's also, in spirit, the reason why I don't think voice actors should be eligible to win - because in an an animated film, so much of the character comes from the animation, and not the actor.
  • Very happy to see Diablo Cody win, as I thought Juno's script was smart and remarkably well-balanced. The film could very easily have been too jokey or too serious, or too melodramatic, but pitched the events at exactly the right level of real-world weight.
  • Very happy to see Transformers not win for visual effects - I thought they took a lot of cheap shortcuts in the design and execution of the robots.
  • After hearing the song from Once, I'm more curious than ever to see it. And the bifurcated duo gave the most genuine and sweet acceptance speeched of the night easily.
  • Brad Bird's speech was on point and disarming, and it was great to see him win. I adored Ratatouille.
  • Thought that Stewart did a great job of balancing his tone, not mocking the event while still hardly appearing in awe.
  • The use of strike-prepared excessive montages was noticeable, but Stewart's bit about some of the ones they prepared and didn't use (bad dreams) was killer.
  • I most missed the spotlights on the Best Film nominees. And I really, really wish they'd cut some of the montages and show scenes - not trailer-like montages - from the nominated films and performances.
Until Whenever

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Still Breathing

In case you were wondering.

I am live-blogging from a war room. A room they won't let me leave. But tomorrow. Tomorrow. The project is over.


Until Whenever

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm It

Been tagged:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.


From Isaac Asimov's The Robots of Dawn:

"I imagine that a mental freeze-out through positronic drift might have a probability of 1 in 1o^12; that by accidental pattern-building 1 in 10^100. That is just an estimate, but a reasonable one. The difference is greater than that between a single electron and the entire Universe--and it is in favor of the positronic shift."

Goold ole' Isaac.

Until Whenever

Monday, February 11, 2008

Three by Three
Three things I liked about Knocked Up.
  • The dynamic between the immature housemates Rogen's character breaks free from. The vulgar, mocking, endlessly abusive relationships struck me as very real - I have had relationships like that with other guys and I have seen it in others.
  • The Rudd-Mann marriage, which was portrayed as neither a comedic nightmare or bliss, but as a real marriage - lots of stress and clashing that never quite masks the fact that these two people work together.
  • The looseness - the movie may have been a tad long, but I'd rather that then a movie that rushes through its character beats.

Three things I did not like about Knocked Up.

  • The film never really convinced me that these two people would fall in love. I believed the distaste the Heigl character showed the morning after their hookup, but I didn't really believe her falling for him - not because of looks, or body size, but because she seemed so put off by his lack of ambition and crassness. It's an example of where the film took the easy way out by trying to let a montage do the heavy lifting of showing us these two people falling in love. It didn't work.
  • The "my gynecologist is at a bar mitzvah" plot machinations. I know drama needs conflict, but this felt engineered.
  • The Vegas sequence - not sure what the whole "mushroom" thing really added, in the end.

Until Whenever

Friday, February 08, 2008

Studios Can Be Right

Everyone loves a good "stupid studio intereference" story, but I'm just as fascinated as the instances, rare as they may be, of studios interering, and fighting the director/writer, and being right. One of my favorite stories Frank Darabont tells on the Shawshank Redemption commentary track is about how the studios insisted he change the ending. Scoff you might, as you think back to that perfect, beautifukl ending, but the first cut of the film, the ones test audiences saw, had a slightly different ending. The narration was the same, but the film ended on that shot of the bus driving off into the horizon - there was no dissole to Red finding Andy on the beach before the credits. Darabont was adamant that we didn't need to see the beach reunion, but the studio, and probably rightly, insisted that the audience needed that victory, needed to see that reunion and not have to assume it happened. And while reasonable minds may differ, I can easily see their point.

Until Whenever

Thursday, February 07, 2008

One to Watch

A year ago, I don't know that I would have pegged AMC, that purveyor of dubious cinematic "classics," to be the new golden boy network of great TV drama, but here we are. Mad Men was easily the summer's best new series, and now AMC has Breaking Bad, which is likely the winter's best new series. We are only two episodes in, so there is still ample time to catch up to the storyline, which concerns a middle-aged high school science teacher whose fatal diagnosis of cancer triggers a particularly intense mid-life crisis. Walter, the teacher (who is married, and expecting, and the father of a teen with MDS) decides to use his chemistry skills for profitable evil by hooking up with a local meth dealer and former student and going into business with him (Walter has the know-how to make really good product, and the kid has the connections).

What is intriguing so far is how deliberately the story is moving - after two episodes Walter and the kid have yet to sell any meth, but are having to deal with the violent fall-out from their first attempts. This is a violent show, and a dark one, and a comic one, which makes it sound like a Sopranos rip-off, but the tones here are worlds apart. Whereas The Sopranos was gritty and suburban and expansive, this is a much more cloistered story (so far at least), in a much dryer, quiter setting. But where they have commonality again is in how much they are driven by idiosyncratic, career-revitalizing performances by middle-aged men. And while Gandolfini's Tony was all fat, comfortable complacence imperiled by an immoral career, Cranston's Walter is thin, depressed needy desperation ready for an outlet. It's an inspired performance.

Breaking Bad, per Sepinwall, has only seven episodes to air due to the strike, leaving only five left. Catch them.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

It's Bee-Yoo-Tee-Ful!!!

'Taint nothing wrong with appreciating beauty for its own sake, as South Dakota Dark has encouraged us all to celebrate in the Deeply Superficial Blog-a-Thon. So, herein are 20 pop culture things that I just find achingly, movingly gorgeous:

1. Michael Giacchino's "Locke" theme (the "Locke'd Out Again" cue on the Season One soundtrack)

2. Naomi Watts and Kong looking out on the sunrise at the end of King Kong.

3. Kate Winslet.

4. The intro to "Where the Streets Have No Name."

5. "Sunday," by Stephen Sondheim.

6. Audra McDonald singing Adam Guettel's "How Glory Goes."

7. John Williams' exuberant scoring to the last fifteen minutes or so of E.T.

8. Adam Guettel's "Migratory V"

9. When Aldonza says that her name is Dulcinea at the end of Man of La Mancha.

10. Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere."

11. Sondheim's "Loving You"

12. The last shot of The Shawshank Redemption

13. Belle and the Beast's dance in Beauty and the Beast

14. Every single shot in Finding Nemo

15. When Tom Hanks finally casts off, and we hear music for the first time in a long while, in Cast Away

16. The airport scene in Love, Actually

17. "When the Angels Fall" by Sting.

18. "Edelweiss" by Rodgers and Hammerstein

19. Scarlett Johannssen

20. Mandy Patinkin singing "Lesson #8"

Until Whenever

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lost Season Four, Episode One - Three by Three

Three things I liked about the first episode of season four of Lost.
  • That they hit the ground running, moving the action forward right from where they left off. No sidebars, no digressions.
  • The flash-forward. This bodes well for what they are going to try and accomplish with these last three seasons - giving us information about what happens in the future that answers some questions while raising others.
  • Jorge Garcia. The man desereves some real Emmy love. Of all the "character A reacts to news of character B's death"s they've done, his was the most convincning. And when he took it upon himself to tell Claire, and then broke down doing so? The man is for real.

Three things I did not like about the first episode of season four of Lost.

  • The "character A is killed but not really" trick is getting WAY overused.
  • I know the island healed Locke, but he DID get gutshot. I'd like to see some acknowledgment of this.
  • In spirit of moving things foward, the characters are moving around the island a little too easily. In the season finale it was a big hike out to the tower; here, the journey back seemed a bit easy.

And one more note. I posted here last year about my pet Lost theory - that the electromagnetic anomoly the hatch was dampening has the ability to affect probability fields - which would explain the interconnectedness of all the castaways. My thought - when Hurley plays Jack in Horse, is it a clue that Hurley makes all his shots? Is a byproduct of his island time, or how they got off, extremely good luck (the opposite of the bad luck he experienced after he won the lottery)?

Until Whenever

Friday, February 01, 2008

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Redemption" - Johnny Cash - American Recordings
An old-Testament-feeling Western song.

2. "Dewain's Song of Liberation and Surprise" - John Adams - I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky
Minimalist Broadway ballad.

3. "John Wesley Harding" - Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
Dylan in easy-going troubadour mode.

4. "Potala" - Philip Glass - Kundun
From the flop about Tibet.

5. "Hand in Hand" - Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
Elvis pays homage to old-school rock and roll.

6. "Mary Ann" - Ray Charles - Ray!
Classic soul.

7. "Amity" - Elliot Smith - XO
Elliot Smith at his rocking-out-est (which isn't much).

8. "I Wanna Get Married" - Audra McDonald - Build a Bridge
A sly, satirical song marriage song that winkingly embraces the 50s housewife archetype.

9. "Strange Meadowlark" - Dave Brubeck - Dave Brubeck: Ken Burns' Jazz
A sweetly beautiful, slightly melancholy, piano ballad.

10. "Belle Star" - Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris - All the Roadrunning
Countrified and gently swinging.

Until Whenever